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Friday, June 8, 2012

My Personal Catholic History

I am going to launch into why the Catholic church is an abomination that should be destroyed, but before I do that, I think it's only fair to give you my personal history with it.

I was raised Catholic. I understood that I could be a horrific "sinner" all the time, so long as I went to confession and had my slate cleaned from time to time.  It was also understood that inaction was virtuous. In other words, it was better to just avoid doing anything "wrong" in the eyes of the church, than to go out of your way to do good in the world and commit small "sins" along the way.  Animals were not ever going to heaven, and their suffering was especially ignorable, since they were ours to do with as we pleased.  After all, god put them here for us, and gave us dominion over them.  I understood that my body was a filthy, ugly thing that needed to be covered up, and that anything pleasurable was, well, sinful.  This especially extended to anything sexual.  The purest, best life was one that did not involve sex or masturbation at all.  Another decent choice was to wait until marriage to have sex with one man, with whom I wouldn't use birth control, and pop out kids for god and the church until my exhausted uterus gave out or I died a virtuous woman.  I could also practice "natural family planning," a technique that had turned all the youth group leaders into parents, themselves.  Furthermore, condoms were evil, since having one around meant that I might be planning sex, and they were deceptive tools of the liberal media, since they didn't actually prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.  Only abstinence and fidelity could do that.  Gay people were not inherently sinful, so long as they didn't act on their "urges." (believe it or not, when I heard this, I reasoned for myself that the best thing to do if you were gay was to become a priest or a nun.)  Every baby conceived was wanted by god, and so should be wanted by us, as mortals.  There was no excuse, ever, for an abortion.  A doomed mother who died carrying a baby in her belly was blessed, receiving a special place in heaven as a martyr.  This was our place in life as women, since we were never meant to be in charge of anything, except maybe a nunnery.  Men took their rightful place as leaders, and even the holiest of women, the nuns, were their servants.  In fact, the male leaders were pure and righteous because they didn't sully themselves with women at all.  Most disturbing of all to me, was how I looked at babies.  Babies came into the world with a black mark on their heads, original sin, that was only washed clean after baptism.  At that point, I looked at a baby with envy.  They were so pure and unmarred by the years of sins that my dirty little soul had 10 years of age.

Some of you might be wondering about all the sex-related issues that I knew about at such a young age.  No, the church did not typically address these issues by age 10.  But I had a mother who gave me an extensive "talk" at 10, and I brought up a lot of questions to my catechism instructors.  Most of the time they brushed them aside and tried to avoid them, but if I kept asking they'd take my aside and mumble out the church's doctrine and dogma.   So that's how I came to know how the world was supposed to work, according to the pope, at 10.

I cannot look back at my years of Catholic upbringing without a wave of revulsion for the church.  Everything I listed above was how I viewed the world at 10.  I fought against it, but deep down I'd been conditioned to believe this way.  I wrestled with self-loathing whenever I did something I knew was wrong in the eyes of my catechism instructors (and I was too shy to ever approach a priest, deacon or bishop) but I couldn't help myself.  I knew something was wrong.  Life was laid out so simply before me, but I knew there was more.  So, I went through the weekly ritual of going to church on Sunday, doing my best to occupy myself and try to ignore the sing-song sermon of love-love-GUILT-love-HATE-HATE-GUILT- HATE YOURSELF-love-love. I played with my siblings, which earned me a dirty look, then a smack, then threats.  I tried to fall asleep or zone out.  That garnered the same response.  When it was clear that my desire to no longer listen to this soul poison was not ever going to be honored, I became outright rebellious.  Activating my siblings to the cause wasn't difficult.  I don't know that they were old enough to actually think much about what was being said, but I know they were bored.  So I pretended to fall over, loudly and flat on my face in the middle of the aisle, when we had to kneel.  This was especially embarrassing for my parents because my father liked to sit in the front row.  He started moving us farther back.  My brother and I would play "bloody knuckles" against the pews in front of us when we had to hold hands and sing.  Dad moved us back farther.  I realized that the babies were a better weapon against my parents than my older siblings.  Enticing them to loudly cry, laugh or shriek, wasn't so hard.  It echoed against through the hall, and we had to move back into the "baby room."  I liked that better, but it still wasn't what I wanted.  I wanted to get away from there.  I wanted to sleep in on Sunday and stay up on Saturday night.  The tomboy in me hated the dresses and skirts I had to wear to a place I didn't respect.  Most of all, the burgeoning free-thinker in me couldn't abide the lessons I was being taught.  I ramped up my assaults on Mass, and Dad cracked down on me.  At one point in my childhood, I was grounded for 12 weeks straight.  Bad behavior in church earned me a week of grounding.  I could stop being grounded when I behaved myself in church the next week.

I never did.  Dad finally broke when he realized that my grounding restricted the entire family from going to Disneyland.  I quietly noted my victory, and continued this pattern for years.  My parents slowly stopped making us attend weekly, then it became a monthly thing, and toward the end we just had to go before we could open presents on Christmas.  That one chafed me.  The idea that we had to endure a special, extra-long Mass, when school was out and all we wanted to do was open presents and play just irritated me to no end.  My parents eventually realized that this was an effort in futility, and took us to midnight Mass on Christmas eve to "fulfill our obligation."

The entire time this was going on my parents had been sending me to catechism.  The weekly religious classes, which my parents, who could not afford to live on their own, paid for, were a more personal reinforcement of the church's teachings.  I will say that catechism is the place where I finally learned that not all adults are worth respecting.  I had several teachers who were nice, but they were all condescending when I presented them with real questions.  I was a precocious child and an avid reader.  At age 8, I read about reincarnation and decided immediately that this was what I believed in.  When I presented my findings to her, bright-eyed and smiling, I asserted myself.  I didn't say, "This is what I think."  I told her, "This is what I know is the truth."  She stared at me for a moment, shook her head and said, "You don't believe that.  You're Catholic.  Now go sit down."  I figured that she hadn't understood me, and, thinking I was revealing some great, new knowledge, I kept going and insisted on telling other members of the class.  At this point she was annoyed, and grabbed me by the arm.  "I said no, you don't think that because you're Catholic.  You need to sit down now."  She shoved me into my seat, and I don't think I heard a word of what she said for the rest of class.  I was totally consumed by the idea of people telling me what to think and insisting that I could not reason for myself.  It truly was a pivotal moment in my childhood.  At that point I realized that I deserved to make my own conclusions.  Now contrast this with the education I was receiving as a Catholic, and you can see why I became a very rebellious teenager.

I have never had an issue talking about sex.  Even from the beginning, I felt that my questions shouldn't inspire blushing, they should just be answered with frank information.  I knew I could make a lot of prudish people, people I didn't respect anyway, uncomfortable by continually bringing up sex.  So when catechism was over and weekly youth group began, so did the continual sex talk.  I wanted intimate details about the church's stance on anal, oral, and vaginal sex.  I wanted to know all about masturbation.  Was it okay if you used a vibrator?  What about something that wasn't your hand or a vibrator?  What about someone else's hand?  I kept it up until the youth group leader suggested that I would enjoy my hour of time with them better just playing pool in the front room.  So, sometimes I played pool.  Sometimes my dad would drop me off at youth group where I'd make an appearance, and I'd go behind the church and across the street to have sex with my boyfriend at his house.  I'd always show back up a few minutes before dad had to pick me up again, and the youth group leaders never tattled on me.  I used to wonder about that, but now I realize that my power to render their youth group unproductive was enough to keep them out of my business.

I was a nuisance in the church, and I was proud of it.  I was an angry teenager, and the majority of my anger was directed at the church.  They lied to me, misunderstood me, ignored me, and wanted to control me.  I was angry that my cash-strapped parents, the ones who were desperately in debt trying to support 6 kids, including one with spina bifida, gave them money.  And the gall that the church had to ask for that money blew me away.

This upbringing, more than anything, taught me that empathy was not an effective tool for life.  No one made an attempt to empathize with me, and I was never encouraged through the church to empathize with others.  My parents taught me differently, but being sent to catechism and church to be taught the opposite of what they taught me, confused me and made me upset that they believed one way, and let the church try to teach me another.  My parents disagreed with the church on several issues, including birth control and some abortion issues, but they didn't feel that these reasons were strong enough to leave behind the church they'd been raised in.

This "cultural Catholicism" is the root of all the problems caused by the church.  I'll address that in my next post.

I finally broke my parents' will to drag me to church at the age of 16.  Mom was battle-weary from fighting with her children and enduring crying and arguing every time they took us there, and dad gave in to her begging to stop taking us.  My parents also started reading a lot of New Age-type literature at this point.  "Conversations with God" was particularly thought-inspiring to them. My religious torture ended at age 16, but a lot of damage had been done.  It would take over a decade to undo it.

1 comment:

  1. I have heard this before, but never in this amount of detail... it was a great read. :)

    My Catholic experience was so different, probably because my parents didn't see it as a necessity. My dad was a C&E Catholic before I was born (he went to Christmas and Easter mass only), then went every Sunday with me, just to keep me in the Faith. Supposedly, once that was established, he'd let me go where I wanted, when I wanted.

    I think announcing to the family that I wanted to be a priest at the age when most kids wanted to be firemen let him know he'd gone a bit too far.

    I wanted to go on Sundays, then Sundays and Wednesdays, then every day they'd let me. Church was my sanctuary. The only place I consistently felt safe.

    That really changed in high school - I was active in the Church until just about the time we met, then I was just going every other Sunday... but you know me, I got it into my head that I wanted to be a priest again, so I ran off to that monastery.

    I'm glad I did. Nothing so permanently shook my faith and made me question the RCC's doctrine and the existence of God so thoroughly.